The Land of Elsewhere
It's 1 o’clock in the morning. The house is dark and quiet. Exhausted girls wrapped in sleeping bags sleep soundly after an evening of rambunctious fun. I'm awake, and I'm homesick. I want to go home. Quietly,
I slip out of my sleeping bag and put on my clothes. I turn the deadbolt and open the front door.
Following a familiar urge, I head home.
The darkness feels safe and invites me to walk slowly. I'm alone – yet I don't feel alone.
Suddenly, off in the distance, a car appears. The deserted street provides little cover from the glaring headlights. As the blinding lights move closer, the comforting darkness evaporates. Fear awakens, and for the first time, I wonder, "Should I have left on my own?"
Slowly the car pulls alongside me and stops. Just as panic begins to wash over me, I recognize my mom. I hold my breath. Rolling down the window, she asks, "Where are you going?" I reply, "Home. I want to go home."
Mom unlocks the car door, and I slide in. We drive home together, neither of us saying a word.
I was 10 years old when a school friend invited me to this sleepover. I vaguely remember an evening filled with laughter, pizza, and playing games. But my most vivid memory that night was an overpowering desire to go home.
My soul knows home, and desires to go there.
Yesterday my spiritual director asked me to describe how centering prayer felt to me. After a few moments, I replied, "It feels like home."
An odd response since most people find centering prayer to be a challenging prayer practice. Centering prayer focuses on stillness and inner silence. I like to imagine I'm sitting on a park bench with God watching the world go by. During centering prayer, one lets go of everything; words, thoughts, actions, and expectations. Simply put, there is nothing to do but be in the presence of love. In a culture which thrives of busy-ness, this kind of prayer can feel like nothing is happening – a waste of time. I've heard people say centering prayer is torturous and futile. So why would it feel like home to me?
Then this morning, while pondering this question, memories of wanting to go home flooded into my mind. Times when an overwhelming desire to go home overshadowed me. I needed to go home. And by home, I meant a place I cannot describe or genuinely understand because I have not fully experienced it yet. A kind of 'land of elsewhere' that I just know exists.
Recalling these memories unearthed an innate desire which lay hidden in my soul. This unrelenting longing to go home has been present throughout my life. Before now, I never realized how intertwined this compelling urge affected my behavior.
Writers of the Gospels mention several times that Jesus had a more in-depth understanding (an intimate knowing) of who he was and where he came from. In John 13:3, the author wrote, Jesus knew "that he had come from God and was returning to God." This statement suggests Jesus knew his home was not where he was born or where his family lived. His home was elsewhere, and returning to this place was his purpose.
I sense the same is true for me. My soul connects me to an intangible place, where I experience unconditional love and belonging. Most of the time, I am unaware of the ways my desire for home affects my daily life. Perhaps all my human efforts have been an attempt to replicate this home because I need a place where my soul feels at home. Look at all the successful home décor stores which focus on creating the perfect home environment. Aren't we all trying to create a place where we feel at home?
However, the soul can never truly feel at home in this world because it was created for another world. This is our spiritual quandary.
Knowing I am a birdwatcher, my spiritual director asked me another poignant question that day. She inquired, "What bird do you feel like in this moment?" I didn't have a reply for her. But after little time and reflection, I can say a homing pigeon. Somehow, the pigeon knows home is elsewhere and that he needs to go there.
This is the spiritual journey – a soul returning home to God.
Image by istockphoto.com.